The purpose of today’s post is to ask Dr. Hunter thirteen questions regarding his views on human origins. I hope he will be gracious enough to respond. Without further ado, here they are.
1. Dr. Hunter, in your original article over at Darwin’s God, you put forward eleven arguments against the hypothesis that humans and chimps had a common ancestor, before going on to critique Professor S. Joshua Swamidass’s evidence for human evolution as “just another worthless argument,” which was “not about science,” but about metaphysics, and for that reason, “unfalsifiable.” Why did you subsequently revise your post, by deleting a key premise from your very first argument, and then deleting eight paragraphs which contained your sixth and seventh arguments? Do you now reject those arguments? Let me declare up-front that I have absolutely no wish to impute any bad motives to you for editing your own blog post. I just want to know where you stand, that’s all. (Curious readers may go here to see what the old version of Dr. Hunter’s post looked like, and here to view the new one. For more details, please see the Appendix below.)
You also assert that Professor Swamidass’s case for human evolution is based on metaphysical assumptions, rather than science. Bearing that in mind, I’d like to ask you the following questions.
2. Can you name a single branch of science which isn’t based on metaphysical assumptions, to at least some extent? For instance, don’t even the so-called “observational sciences” assume the reliability of induction – an assumption which is grounded in a metaphysical worldview of things (or substances) possessing determinate natures, which guarantee that they will behave in a uniform fashion? (Even if essentialism is dead in the biological realm, it continues to hold sway in the fields of physics and chemistry: lower-level entities such as molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles and fields are still envisaged as having a fixed nature, which is the same at all times and places.)
3. That being the case, instead of trying to purge metaphysics from science, shouldn’t we focus on making our core metaphysical assumptions as simple, non-controversial and commonsensical as possible?
4. Do you accept that if hypothesis A readily explains an empirical fact F and hypothesis B does not, then F (taken by itself) constitutes scientific evidence for A over B? Or putting it another way, if a fact F is predicted by hypothesis A, and compatible with hypothesis B but not predicted by B, then do you agree that F constitutes scientific evidence for A over B? If not, why not?
5. Do you also accept that the hypothesis that humans and chimps share a common ancestor is not a hypothesis about mechanisms as such (or what Aristotle would describe as efficient causes) but rather, about material causes – i.e. the raw material from which the human body was originally derived, regardless of the process involved, with the “raw material” in this case being the body of the supposed common ancestor of man and chimp? What I’m saying here is that the hypothesis of common ancestry, taken by itself, is agnostic as to whether the human mind originally arose from matter, or whether human evolution was guided or unguided. Do you agree? If not, why not?
6. If you accept 4 and 5, then why do you not agree that the profound genetic similarities between humans and chimps constitute at least prima facie (scientific) evidence for the hypothesis of common ancestry? And why do you not agree that the discovery of fossil hominins such as Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo ergaster, which appear to be transitional in form, constitutes additional scientific evidence which bolsters this hypothesis, even if it’s incomplete evidence?
7. Am I correct in understanding you as claiming that there exists no scientific evidence whatsoever for the hypothesis that humans and chimps share a common ancestor, and that all of the arguments put forward for human evolution are in reality metaphysical arguments?
8. Do you claim that (a) it is impossible, in principle, to mount a purely scientific argument for the common ancestry of humans and chimps, or merely that (b) no-one has yet succeeded in putting forward such an argument?
9. If you chose (a), would you also agree that it is impossible, in principle, to mount a purely scientific argument for the human race (or the world) being more than 6,000 years old?
10. If you chose (b), then can you show me a purely scientific argument (devoid of metaphysical assumptions) for the various races of man sharing a common ancestor – and for that matter, for modern humans and Neanderthals sharing a common ancestor? If so, please specify.
11. If you chose (b), then what kind of scientific argument for humans and chimps having a common ancestor would satisfy you?
12. I’d like to draw your attention to the following quote from the young-earth creationist, Dr. Todd Wood, commenting on Dr. Fazale Rana and Dr. Hugh Ross’s demand, in their book, Who was Adam?, that before they recognize the evolution of humans and chimps from a common ancestor as an established fact, there would have to be “a clear evolutionary pathway from this supposed ancestor to modern human,” as well as hominid fossils documenting “the gradual emergence of the anatomical and behavioral traits that define humanity, such as large brain size, advanced culture, and the ability to walk erect,” with “transitional forms” readily discernible in the fossil record. Dr. Wood comments:
Given the spotty and fragmentary hominin fossil record, expecting any clarity for any model is unrealistic. Even if human evolution were true and the fossil record preserved wonderful and numerous fossils of every descendant of the hypothetical human/chimpanzee last common ancestor, there is no guarantee that we would be able to recognize any “clear” lineage from nonhuman to human.
Would you care to comment?
13. In the comments to one of your posts, you thanked a reader for linking to an article stating that the protein vitellogenin confers several beneficial effects upon bees, in addition to being used to make egg yolks. Humans possess a broken copy of the gene which makes this protein; they no longer need it. So my final question is: why do you not consider this gene to be vestigial – especially when Dr. Jeffrey Tomkins’s claim that the remaining gene fragments in human beings are functional has been soundly refuted by Dr. Dennis Venema?
I would also welcome readers’ comments on the questions I posed to Dr. Hunter.
A trip down history lane: the 1864 Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences
In 1864, a group of young London chemists, led by a young chemist named Herbert McLeod (1841-1923) and calling themselves ‘Students of the natural and physical sciences’, put together a statement titled the Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences, expressing their belief that “it is impossible for the Word of God, as written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another, however much they may appear to differ,” and expressing their confident belief that “a time will come when the two records will be seen to agree in every particular.” The statement, which was published in 1865, attracted the signatures of 717 people (most of whom were scientists), including 86 Fellows of the Royal Society. James Joule and Adam Sedgwick were among its signatories. Other scientists, however, attacked the wording of the statement as divisive, and urged that it was high time to “let men of science mind their own business, and theologians theirs.” The most prominent critic of the Declaration was the British mathematician Augustus De Morgan, who argued in his work, A Budget of Paradoxes (section O), that scientists should not be called on to approve or disapprove, in writing, any religious doctrine or statement, and who put forward an alternative declaration of his own. What is remarkable, historically speaking, is that both documents fall afoul of what scientists now refer to as methodological naturalism. Even the alternative version put forward by de Morgan expressed a belief in the “Word of God, as correctly read in the Book of Nature,” as well as expressing “faith as to our future state.”
The dissenters from the 1864 Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences carried the day, and by 1872, the Declaration was all but forgotten.
The Declaration read as follows:
We, the undersigned Students of the Natural Sciences, desire to express our sincere regret, that researches into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the Truth and Authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God, as written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another, however much they may appear to differ. We are not forgetful that Physical Science is not complete, but is only in a condition of progress, and that at present our finite reason enables us only to see as through a glass darkly, and we confidently believe, that a time will come when the two records will be seen to agree in every particular. We cannot but deplore that Natural Science should be looked upon with suspicion by many who do not make a study of it, merely on account of the unadvised manner in which some are placing it in opposition to Holy Writ. We believe that it is the duty of every Scientific Student to investigate nature simply for the purpose of elucidating truth, and that if he finds that some of his results appear to be in contradiction to the Written Word, or rather to his own interpretations of it, which may be erroneous, he should not presumptuously affirm that his own conclusions must be right, and the statements of Scripture wrong; rather, leave the two side by side till it shall please God to allow us to see the manner in which they may be reconciled; and, instead of insisting upon the seeming differences between Science and the Scriptures, it would be as well to rest in faith upon the points in which they agree.
It strikes me that a creationist could conscientiously sign this Declaration, affirming a belief in the special creation of man, while at the same time acknowledging that the scientific evidence appears to contradict this view at the present time, but trusting nevertheless that at some future time, a resolution of this conflict of evidence will be found. To my mind, that sounds like a fine, manly position for a special creationist to take. I wonder what Dr. Hunter thinks of it. And what do readers think?
Is Dr. Hunter misreading Professor Swamidass?
In the course of his reply to my post, Dr. Hunter accuses Professor Swamidass of the following charges:
(a) dogmatically drawing conclusions when he states that the evolutionary story “is by far the best scientific explanation of our origins”;
(b) suggesting that microevolution is sufficient to explain the evolution of humans from a small, ape-like creature;
(c) adopting a scientist-versus-theologian, Warfare Thesis perspective, and demanding that theologians must adjust their sights, drop their denial, and grapple with the undeniable truths of evolution;
(d) writing in a confrontationist tone, by castigating as “lawyerly” those who would explain the similarities between humans and chimps by appealing to common “design”; and
(e) presenting a patronizing story in his article, in order to “reduce the fear some feel when encountering evidence that might contradict their understanding of the Bible.”
I believe that Professor Swamidass is innocent of these charges.
To begin with (e): in presenting the story of the 100-year-old tree, Professor Swamidass expressly states that his aim is simply to get theologians to acknowledge that “for some reason, God chose to create humans so that our genomes look as though we do, in fact, have a common ancestor with chimpanzees.” And that’s all. He then goes on to say: “If we allow for God’s intervention in our history, it is possible we do not share a common ancestor with apes. Adding God into the picture, anything is possible.” This is not patronizing, and it I certainly not an attempt to bulldoze theologians into accepting evolution.
Regarding (d), Swamidass does indeed use the term “lawyerly” to characterize those who would explain the similarities between humans and chimps in terms of common design. That’s because the explanation is too vague: it fails to account for the extraordinary fact that our DNA is only about 1.5% different from a chimp’s. Nevertheless, Swamidass’s tone is far from confrontationist, when he writes: “What design principle can explain why humans are 10 times more similar to chimpanzees than mice are to rats? No one knows.” He isn’t saying that an appeal to common design is wrong; rather, he’s saying that if it is true, it’s not the whole story. There must be some additional reason why we are so similar to chimps.
Regarding (c), it is important to note that Professor Swamidass repeatedly describes himself as a Creation Pacifist. He rejects the view that science and religion have to be at war with one another, as well as the condescending view that scientific truth trumps religious dogma. The Creation Pacifist movement which he belongs to includes people who are creationists. It would be utterly absurd to describe such a man as adopting a “Warfare Thesis” perspective.
Regarding (b), Professor Swamidass does not say that microevolution is sufficient to explain the evolution of humans from a small, ape-like creature. Rather, what he says is that the degree of similarity between humans and chimps puts them in the same Biblical “kind,” genetically speaking, and that microevolution explains the genetic similarities (but not necessarily the differences):
In fact, if “microevolution” (a concept many religious leaders affirm) can explain the similarity between rats and mice, it is reasonable to infer it explains the similarity between humans and chimpanzees. Genetically, humans and apes are the same “kind.”
Nowhere in his article does Professor Swamidass claim that the entire suite of differences (psychological, behavioral, morphological and genetic) between humans and chimps can be accounted for by random, step-by-step mutations. His article leaves open the question of how we became human.
Regarding (a), Professor Swamidass does indeed assert that the evolutionary story “is by far the best scientific explanation of our origins,” but he qualifies his assertion by inserting the word “scientific” in front of “explanation,” and by remarking: “Maybe this evolutionary story is false.” I would hardly call that dogmatic; would you?
Finally, let me quote an excerpt from a comment made by Professor Swamidass in response to a reader:
“Strong scientific evidence for common descent exists, but when taking God into account it is not definitive.” This is not a religious statement. It does not presume that evolution is true. And it does not end all our disagreements. And it should not be controversial.
That was all Professor Swamidass was really trying to say. It’s a real pity that some people took umbrage at his remarks.
APPENDIX: Dr. Hunter’s curious deletions
I mentioned above that Dr. Hunter had edited his original post on Darwin’s God, removing two of his eleven arguments and substantially watering down his first argument. Fortunately for readers, Dr. Hunter left another post online, which was virtually identical to his original post.
To see what Dr. Hunter’s original post looked like, readers can view his article, Stunning Evidence for Common Ancestry? S. Joshua Swamidass on the Chimp-Human Divergence over at Evolution News and Views. This article is virtually identical to Dr. Hunter’s original post over at Darwin’s God, except that: (a) the offensive last sentence of that post (“Like that old baseball card, it’s just another worthless argument”) is missing (and yes, I do think it’s “curtly dismissive” in tone); (b) the second paragraph has been split into two paragraphs; and (c) the heading near the end of the article has been changed, from “Swamidass arguments and evidences” to “Swamidass Explains?” One or two words in the post have also been changed.
Let me be quite clear: I’m not accusing Dr. Hunter of doing anything wrong here, in editing his original post. He has included a short note at the end of his revised post over at Darwin’s God: “Ed; Removed sentence about the orangutan, 1-Mb segments section, and the gene functionality section.” That’s fine. After all, it’s his blog, and he can edit it as he sees fit. For my part, I sometimes correct typos and sloppy wording on my own posts, especially within the first day after I publish them, although when I do amend my posts, I tend to expand them slightly, rather than deleting stuff.
However, I am very curious as to why Dr. Hunter dropped two of his arguments against human evolution from his original post, and weakened the force of another of his arguments by removing a key claim about orangutans. Why would he do that, if he actually believed those arguments? Or has he changed his views on the merits of those arguments? In that case, why doesn’t he just come out and say so?
Let me add that I have changed my mind in the light of new evidence, and openly acknowledged my errors on Uncommon Descent. My 2014 post, When I’m wrong, is a good example. Previously, I had put forward certain arguments (see here, here, here, here and here) against the neutral theory of evolution, which I later came to recognize as flawed, after an exchange of views with Professor Larry Moran.
Since I have publicly acknowledged my own mistakes on previous occasions, I would ordinarily expect other contributors to Uncommon Descent to do likewise, in similar circumstances. But I’m happy to let Dr. Hunter speak for himself.
Dr. Hunter’s original arguments
To help readers see what I’m talking about, here are the eleven arguments Dr. Hunter put forward in his original post, in summary form, along with my replies.
1. The genetic evidence cited in favor of common descent is not congruent with the other data: “in its morphology and behavior, the orangutan is closer to humans than the chimpanzee.”
[My reply: Dr. Hunter is probably relying on out-of-date 2009 paper by Grehan and Schwartz, which claimed that orangutans were morphologically closer humans than chimps were. However, another more recent study using a larger dataset found that chimpanzees are morphologically closer to humans than orangutans are (see also here.]
2. Mutations are random, and natural selection doesn’t help, either: “it cannot induce or coax the right mutations to occur.” According to Dr. Hunter, “this makes the evolution of even a single protein, let alone humans, statistically impossible.”
[My reply: this is an argument against evolution occurring purely via undirected processes. It is not an argument against common descent.]
3. Random mutations cannot create human consciousness, and evolutionary attempts to deny the reality of consciousness or explain it away as an “emergent property” are tantamount to anti-realism.
[My reply: this is an argument against materialistic theories of evolution. It is not an argument against common descent.]
4. It makes little sense that the relatively tiny genetic difference (1 or 2%) between human and chimpanzee DNA could be responsible the enormous design differences between the two species.
[My reply: this is incorrect. Scientists now know that the vast majority of genetic changes are either neutral or nearly neutral, whereas morphological changes (including the “design changes” referred to by Dr. Hunter) are often subject to natural selection, and are therefore either beneficial or deleterious. Neutral or nearly neutral mutations dwarf beneficial mutations in frequency, and the ratio of the former to the latter is not fixed. Hence the degree of genetic divergence between two species tells us nothing about how different they are, morphologically.]
5. To makes matters worse, according to the widely accepted neutral theory of evolution, the vast majority of the mutations occurring in the human line would have led to “neutral and slightly deleterious alleles.” Dr. Hunter comments: “This is no way to evolve the most complex designs in the world.”
[My reply: It has been calculated that out of the 22.5 million (mostly neutral) mutations that occurred in the human line, a mere 340 beneficial mutations would have been enough to turn the common ancestor of man and the chimp into a modern human being. The hypothesis of common descent does not specify whether these mutations were intelligently designed or not.]
6. What’s more, when evolutionists search for genes in the human genome that do show signs of selection, rather than neutral drift, they only find relatively unimportant ones: one 2005 study found only “genes involved in the sense of smell, in digestion, in hairiness, and in hearing.”
[My reply: Dr. Hunter is relying on outdated information here. A more recent 2013 paper by Capra et al. found that brain enhancers were actually the most common of the 773 developmental enhancers that they analyzed, in the non-coding human accelerated regions (ncHARs) of the human genome.]
7. If you look at large segments of DNA, corresponding in the human and the chimp, you find unexplainable variations in the chimp-human differences, which evolutionists can only explain away by resorting to a “then a miracle happened” hypothesis. Dr. Hunter remarks: “Under evolution there is no scientific reason, beyond hand-waving speculation, for such variations.”
[My reply: the differences in the rate of divergence which Dr. Hunter refers to are relatively minor. If we look at the median figures for chromosome pairs 1 to 22, we find that the genetic difference between humans and chimps varies from about 1.1% to a little under 1.4%, with an average overall difference of 1.23%. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here.]
8. According to Dr. Hunter, “The supposed divergence rate between chimps and humans … also has an unexplainable variation towards the ends of most chromosomes. This is another problem that seems to make no sense under evolution.”
[My reply: even near telomeres (the ends of chromosomes), the level of divergence between human and chimp DNA never gets above 2.1%, and elsewhere in the genome, it never falls below 1.0%. In other words, we’re talking about a two-fold variation in the rate at which the molecular clock ticks, in the worst possible case. This is hardly earth-shattering news. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here.]
9. Dr. Hunter writes: “This supposed divergence rate between chimps and humans also has an unexplainable variation that correlates with chromosomal banding. Again, this makes no sense under evolution.”
[My reply: neither evolution nor creation explains this observation well. In any case, it is fatal to neither theory. Dr. Hunter is making much ado about nothing. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here.]
10. Dr. Hunter observes: “The mouse-rat [genetic] divergence is about an order of magnitude greater than the chimp-human divergence. Yet the mouse and rat are much more [morphologically] similar than the chimp and human. It makes no sense under evolution.”
[My reply: there’s no correlation between the frequency of morphological changes and the frequency of genetic mutations. In the beginning, Darwinian evolutionists mistakenly assumed that the genetic difference between rats and mice would be small, because the morphological differences between these animals are slight. But we now know that the vast majority of the genetic differences between any two species are neutral or near-neutral mutations, which dwarf beneficial mutations by a factor of about 100,000 to 1 (see above: 340 beneficial mutations to 22.5 million neutral ones). Morphological differences, by contrast, are frequently caused by beneficial mutations, which are screened by natural selection.]
11. Finally, since mice and rats are supposed to have diverged long before humans and chimps did, and since mice and rats have a much shorter lifespan and generation time than chimps and humans, “one would conclude that the mouse-rat genetic divergence should be … at least two orders of magnitude greater than the chimp-human genetic divergence. But it isn’t.”
[My reply: Dr. Hunter’s figures are wrong. In reality, the neutral molecular clock ticks twice as fast for rats and mice as it does for primates. Multiply that by the three-fold difference between the 18-million-year-old mouse-rat divergence date estimated by evolutionists and the 6-million-year-old human-chimp divergence date, and you get an expected level of genetic divergence which is just six times greater – and not two orders of magnitude (or 100 times) greater, as calculated by Dr. Hunter. See also Professor Swamidass’s remarks on the subject here click on the hyperlink, “How does common descent explain the differences between chimps and humans?”]
Dr. Hunter’s amendments to his original post
Here’s the crucial sentence which Dr. Hunter deleted from his first argument against evolution, in his original poston his Darwin’s God Website:
Furthermore, in its morphology and behavior, the orangutan is closer to humans than the chimpanzee.
Take this sentence away, and the force of Dr. Hunter’s conclusion in that argument is vastly weakened: “Simply put, from an evolutionary perspective the genetic data are not congruent with the other data.” Why not, exactly?
And here are the eight paragraphs which Dr. Hunter deleted from his original post:
When evolutionists search for genes in the human genome that do show signs of selection, rather than neutral drift (again, under the assumption of evolution), they find only a limited repertoire of functionality. For example, one study found genes involved in the sense of smell, in digestion, in hairiness, and in hearing. In other words, evolution is suggesting that we differ from the chimp mainly in those functions. It is a silly conclusion and another problem for Swamidass to explain.
But that’s not all.
That 2005 paper also found a host of chimp-human comparisons that are nonsensical in evolutionary terms. In other words, if you are forced to interpret the genetic comparisons in terms of evolution, you end up with contradictions. For example, if you look at large segments of DNA, corresponding in the human and the chimp, you find unexplainable variations in the chimp-human differences:
Nucleotide divergence rates are not constant across the genome… The average divergence in 1-Mb segments fluctuates with a standard deviation of 0.25%, which is much greater than the 0.02% expected assuming a uniform divergence rate.
To explain these nonsensical findings evolutionists have to resort to a “then a miracle happened” hypothesis. The usual explanatory devices do not work, so they are left only with the claim that local variations in the mutation rate did it — which amounts to special pleading:
[W]e suggest that the large-scale variation in the human-chimpanzee divergence rate primarily reflects regional variation in mutation rate.
Under evolution there is no scientific reason, beyond hand-waving speculation, for such variations. This is the equivalent of epicycles in geocentrism and so we have yet another problem for Swamidass to address.
But that’s not all.
These arguments have now vanished without a trace and without an explanation. And I am left wondering whether Dr. Hunter still believes them or not.
But enough of that. What do readers think? Over to you.